How We Get Our Skin Color

Type Category
Instructional Materials
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This lesson is designed as a supporting resource for the HHMI resource, The Biology of Skin Color.  The interactive animation describes how and where melanin is produced and includes five stop points where students can learn more information.  Supporting materials include a student worksheet consisting of questions related to each of the five stop points.  The resource can be used with units related to genetics, evolution (see for a review), and cell structure and function.  Portions of this video would be appropriate for middle school students.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS1-2 Develop and use a model to illustrate the hierarchical organization of interacting systems that provide specific functions within multicellular organisms.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on functions at the organism system level such as nutrient uptake, water delivery, and organism movement in response to neural stimuli. An example of an interacting system could be an artery depending on the proper function of elastic tissue and smooth muscle to regulate and deliver the proper amount of blood within the circulatory system.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include interactions and functions at the molecular or chemical reaction level.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this activity, students are presented with video simulations, narrations, and textual information which are designed to help students identify the relationships between structure and function of skin cells and skin color. As currently written, this resource is two dimensional (practices + core ideas). In order to ensure the core concepts related to this performance expectation are fully mastered, this resource will need to be a part of an extended learning sequence and there needs to be explicit integration of the crosscutting concepts. The student resource includes a series of guiding questions for students to answer at various stop points in the lesson. The teacher might want to capture these questions for the whole class using a question bank or some type of interactive technology. Additionally, the teacher might want to eliminate all or parts of the scripted questions as they go beyond the intent of the standard.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In this resource, students interact with the animated model in order to gather information about the cause and effect relationships between melanin production and skin color. The model simulation provided cannot be individualized and components cannot be manipulated by the students. To further their mastery of this practice, students could generate their own models prior to utilizing the resource. They could then revise that model to describe the components, their interactions, and their mechanisms. Such an activity could also serve as a three-dimensional assessment opportunity.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students can use the interactive model and scientific material to further their understanding of this core idea. Teachers may want to capture students’ questions and ideas about how we get skin color prior to the lesson. Additionally, teachers may want to have students construct explanations using evidence they gather from this resource in order to assess students’ understandings. In order for students to have a rigorous depth of understanding of this concept, this resource should be part of an extended learning sequence.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This resource is framed around students identifying the causal relationship between the structure of skin cells, more specifically melanin, and how it functions to protect the cell from UV rays. The provided student questions assume students recognize these relationships. In order to ensure students are using the crosscutting concepts as a lens for understanding, teachers should revise the student questions that accompany this resource so that the crosscutting concepts are explicitly addressed. Examples of question stems specific to the CCC can be found at

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource is structured to elicit students’ learning as they figure out the phenomena of skin color and to make connections among the structure and functions of skin components. As currently written, this resource is two-dimensional focusing on the core ideas and practices. When re-designing this resource to make it more three-dimensional, students’ use of the crosscutting concepts in their sensemaking of skin color should be more explicit. Additionally, teachers may want to make the phenomena of skin color more personal by using the shades of skin tone within the class as the focal phenomenon.

  • Instructional Supports: There are no instructional supports provided to the teacher for this particular component of this HHMI BioInteractive resource. However, this resource is related to the "Biology of Skin Color" unit and teachers may find other components that do provide helpful instructional supports.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The student worksheet is divided into the five stop points which align with the interactive animation. However, the answers to those questions are not provided and there is no guidance given on how to monitor student progress.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The interactive features of this resource are both purposeful and directly related to the learning but does not provide an individualized learning experience.